Raiders’ best option at QB isn’t Aaron Rodgers

The Raiders will have options at quarterback next season and the best one may already be on their roster.

LAS VEGAS — The marriage has ended.

Quarterback Derek Carr was officially released by the Las Vegas Raiders on Tuesday, ending a relationship that began in 2014 and never really materialized or blossomed successfully.

Sure, Carr moves on with franchise records – he’s the team’s career leader in passing yards (35,222) and touchdown passes (217) – but he also heads to one of the other 31 teams with a loss in his lone playoff appearance during his nine-year career, and a sour taste after first-year coach Josh McDaniels moved on from the veteran before the end of the season.

It was an anticipated separation once Carr was benched with two games left in the 2022-23 campaign.

Whether it was via trade or release, the Raiders didn’t want to remain on the hook for $40.4 million in guaranteed money over the next two years had he remained on the roster beyond Wednesday’s deadline.

Instead, the Raiders’ salary dead cap hit will be $5.6 million next season after releasing Carr.

“We have a lot of respect for Derek Carr and what he has meant to the Raiders organization for the last nine years,” Raiders coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler said in a statement. “Derek has done great things in this league and we’re thankful to have been able to work with him this past year. He is a true professional and we appreciate his hard work in striving to produce the results we all desire.”

Now, while the 31-year-old ventures on to the open market with hopes of latching on with a playoff-potential team in need of an upgrade at quarterback, the big question at Raiders headquarters in Henderson, Nevada is who will usher in a new era for the storied franchise.

McDaniels and Ziegler are undoubtedly operating with a “win-now” guise, under the watchful eye of owner Mark Davis.

Thus, it’ll take someone who can pick up on the same offensive scheme McDaniels was successful with as the offensive coordinator in New England, with Tom Brady as quarterback.

Leading the speculation is veteran Aaron Rodgers, who will be submerged in a “darkness retreat” for four days beginning Friday, as he said during Tuesday’s podcast with Pat McAfee. And while acquiring Rodgers would reunite the four-time NFL MVP with wide receiver Davante Adams, it would also entail unloading top-tier talent and/or draft picks.

Not sure the sense that makes since rebuilding the defense and offensive line is arguably as big a priority, if not bigger. Especially when there is someone with full knowledge of McDaniels’ “Patriots-way system” in arm’s length, potentially a better choice than Jimmy Garoppolo, who was with both Ziegler and McDaniels in New England.

Jarrett Stidham has been under McDaniels’ watch all three years of his career, learning the system in both Foxborough and Las Vegas.

In five appearances for Las Vegas, including two starts, he completed 53 of 83 (63.9%) pass attempts, threw four interceptions versus three interceptions. And oh by the way, Stidham faced San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City, who could’ve very easily played one another in the Super Bowl had 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy not gotten injured in the first quarter of the NFC Championship.

As of now, Stidham, whose base salary was $965,000 last season, is an unrestricted free agent. But there was a reason McDaniels brought him in from New England, and he certainly proved he could handle the pressure with a stellar performance against San Francisco’s defense.

Long-term, it’s a much more cost-efficient move than bringing in Rodgers or Garoppolo, as it would leave plenty of funds to strengthen Las Vegas’ offensive line and rebuild a defense that allowed teams to score a league seventh-highest 40.8% of the time on offensive drives.

Nevertheless, as long as Rodgers is a target, his name will be in the conversation.

Here are five viable options I see for the Raiders:

5. Offer-sheet Lamar JacksonThis was a longshot before Tom Brady retired. Now it’s only a pipe dream of mine. Hey, if you’re flirting with a major investment in aging Rodgers, why not take your shot at arguably the best athlete in the NFL? Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in the world, yes. But with overall athleticism and what he is capable of doing on a football field, I think a 100-percent healthy Jackson is the league’s top athlete. The Ravens will likely franchise-tag Jackson (between Feb. 21 and Mar. 7), which would give the team control while preventing him from negotiating with other teams (exclusive franchise tag) or possibly snag two first-round picks if he were to sign an offer sheet with another squad (non-exclusive franchise tag). I expect the Ravens to negotiate heavily, but if there’s a way to get him in a Silver and Black jersey, all systems go.

4. Trade for Rodgers It’s not my favorite move whatsoever, but if you’re looking to immediately bolster the offense, Rodgers would obviously fit. Once this dude emerges from his darkness retreat, I’m guessing the Jets and Raiders will lead the Rodgers sweepstakes. He would certainly thrive with his old pal Adams, and also with a big-time tight end in Darren Waller, a tough-as-nails slot shot in Hunter Renfrow, and the reigning NFL rushing champ Josh Jacobs. By the way, in case you’re wondering why I put Rodgers behind the next guy, he ranks seventh in completion percentage (65.0%) since 2014 (when Carr entered the league) among active quarterbacks with a minimum 3,000 pass attempts. And by the way, does anyone else wonder why Rodgers would leave a division he’s dominated for years, to play in one he might be the third-best quarterback among Mahomes, Russell Wilson and Justin Herbert?

3. Trade for Kirk Cousins This would be like keeping Carr, quite frankly. A durable guy in his 30s with a strong arm and someone who has splashed the stat sheet with impressive numbers at times. Relating back to my comment on the other guy at No. 4, Cousins ranks No. 1 in completion percentage (67.2%) with the same criteria, along with his league-best 7.7 yards gained per attempt. He also ranks fourth with 244 TDs and a 5.2% TD percentage, while his 99.1 rating checks in at No. 3. Cousins would be costly, too, but if the Raiders could make it work on a restructured deal as part of a trade, he could come with a cheaper price tag than Rodgers.

2. Draft Anthony Richardson The Raiders have the No. 7 overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft, and while Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud would be off the board, there are other viable options they should consider on a rookie contract. Such as, Will Levis or Anthony Richardson. Personally, I like the latter to fit into McDaniels’ offense. Richardson is a strapping 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, and even in his sturdy frame, turns in a 4.4 40-yard dash. Not that it’s necessarily what’s needed considering the weapons on offense, but Richardson, who led SEC quarterbacks with five runs of 30 yards or more this past season, is built for dual-threat destruction. So why not when the rest of the division consists of guys like Mahomes, Wilson and Herbert?

1. Sign Stidham Forget signing Jacoby Brissett or Jimmy Garoppolo, or trading for Mac Jones. You had someone who knows McDaniels’ system, which is why he was brought to Las Vegas in the first place. McDaniels benched Carr in favor of Stidham for the final two games of the season, and there was a feeling of confidence in what Stidham could do against San Francisco’s daunting defense and the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs, than there was in Carr the previous 15 games. Stidham could come at a massive discount, and at the very least deserves a shot after what we saw against the 49ers’ stop unit. If the mindset surrounding Brissett, Garoppolo and Jones is because they’re familiar with McDaniels’ playbook, then Stidham should most certainly be considered.

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